The rumors are true. Jeremy Rutherford confirms that Jaroslav Halak and Ken Hitchcock had a "heated disagreement" prior to Game 4 in Los Angeles. The argument took place outside of the team's locker room and was evidently started due to the fact Halak was late for a team meeting. Halak argued with Hitchcock about his lack of playing time at the end of the regular season.
Suspicions were raised about Halak's attitude in Game 2 when Brian Elliott appeared to suffer a leg injury. As Elliott tried to collect himself on the ice, Halak remained motionless on the bench. Normally, the backup would start stretching and getting ready in case the starter has to be pulled. Halak was a statue, rooted to his spot on the bench. Fans noticed. So too did team personnel as it was "discussed for several days within the organization," according to Rutherford.
What should we make of this whole situation?
Halak was angry that when he returned to full health after his most recent groin injury the team decided to continue to ride Brian Elliott. Specifically, he apparently felt he deserved to start in the team's final regular season game against the Chicago Blackhawks as preparation for the playoffs. The Blues instead used Elliott with home-ice advantage on the line.
Does Halak have a reasonable argument here? Yes and no. It's understandable that the goaltender wanted some playing time. As a matter a fact, it'd be worse if he didn't want playing time. However, given the situation, it's really no surprise the Blues used Elliott given how well he was performing and considering something as valuable as starting the playoffs at home was on the line. Halak has every right to be frustrated, but this hardly seems like a situation worth having a "heated disagreement" over.
Meanwhile, Halak's actions - or lack of action - when Elliott went down in Game 2 are worth arguing over. You can be upset about playing time, but you better still support your team and support your teammates. With Elliott looking like he may need to leave the game, Halak refusing to move was a bad sign. It indicates that he's more concerned about his own agenda rather than the greater good of the team. Reports indicate he's been lackadaisical in practice, barely showing any interest. Halak arguing with Hitchcock about this matter shows he's frustrated (understandably), but it also shows that he's losing - or has lost - respect for team management.
Unfortunately, these situations usually don't end well. Halak's season was a frustrating one both for the goaltender and for fans, but how he's handled himself in the playoffs (not stretching, uninterested in practice, late to a meeting) could be the beginning of the end of his time with St. Louis. Halak has one year left on his original four-year, $15 million contract. He's played some spectacular hockey at times, but at others he's left a lot to be desired. He's suffered several injuries over the last two years which is an alarming trend all on its own.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and Halak will accept his role with the team, regardless of what that role might be. If not, don't be surprised if the team makes drastic decision regarding Halak's future with the Blues.
Full disclosure: I'm a huge Halak fan. I like Elliott a lot, and I don't know much about Allen outside of what I saw up here. First, I have been expecting Halak to be moved for a couple of months now, mainly because of Allen's emergence and his bad season. Granted, I think that rash moves after a shortened, weird season should be considered carefully, but cost-wise I could see them moving that contract if there is a taker. I think an Elliott/Allen tandem could either be very successful or very scary, depending upon which Elliott we get. It's a fair question to ask of all three of them, actually. It could be risky to move Halak, but if they have to, we have two good options and depth in the younger ranks. Second, as I've said numerous times, I think the argument story was overblown. I think that it was started to create drama (conveniently right before Game 6 instead of Game 4, when it actually happened), and as Hitch said and others have said as well, it isn't anything unusual. The whole stretching/not stretching thing- many of us took it as he wasn't called upon and was keeping cool. Halak doesn't exactly show a lot of emotion, period. He's known for being collected and cool, and when he's on the bench, I've rarely seen him do much except stay statuesque. That's just him. Every other account I've heard regarding him is that he is a good teammate, nice person, and quiet/under the radar. Maybe he is displeased overall, but I take it as a guy full of pride who had a bad season, injuries, who wants to compete and win, and was disappointed he wasn't played more when healthy. If Hitch says it isn't a big deal, it isn't. I take him at his word.
I think there's a lot of meat here, especially in light of the three goalie situation that made so much news earlier in the year. Let me start with a few qualifiers:
I'm not particularly more or less of a fan of any of the Blues current crop of goaltenders - I'm a fan of the Blues winning games. Whichever goalie does that, I'm fine with, regardless of past occasions of cold/poor play in net, off-ice controversies, the numbers left on their contracts, etc, etc, etc.
I don't think any of the three goalies currently in the discussion are significantly more likely than the other two of being The One who brings the Cup to St. Louis. We've seen great hockey out of all three, and we've seen pedestrian hockey out of all three.
There's a good likelihood that one of the three will not be with the St. Louis Blues organization by the start of next season. Here's why, purely from a fan's perspective:
Halak. The primary reason he might not be back, if Armstrong can find a spot to move him? The recent injury history. When he's healthy, he has probably the highest upside of the lot, and generally gives the team a better chance to "steal" a game. But, again, what is it now, three groin injuries in two years, plus various other dings and dents? If Army can find a way to move his contract (the largest of the three, by a good couple million and change, if I recall correctly), this wouldn't surprise me in the least.
Elliott. Out of the three, I think he has the best shot of staying put. While it wouldn't make any sense to put his awful string of play in February and March aside, I still maintain that a lot of that had to do with the team failing in front of him. See also: several of the goals from games 4-6 of this year's series against the Kings. He's not going to steal games, at least, not at anywhere near the rate Halak will when healthy and on his game, but when the team is solid in front of him, he'll easily put up above-average goaltending numbers which *should* be enough to get the job done. Add in the fact that he's making somewhere around half what Halak makes, a consideration that I'm sure comes into play for the budget-conscious Blues, with a slew of UFAs and RFAs to deal with this off-season, and I'd expect him to be back in the Bluenote next season.
Allen. Here's the wildcard in the whole situation. Is he really ready to come in and do occasionally what he did when he salvaged the Blues season when Halak was injured and Elliott was swiss cheese in net? He's up for his RFA deal, so he's not going to break the bank, but what happens here is predicated on two things: Do the Blues really believe he's capable of at least being a legitimate NHL backup, and if so, does Halak get moved? If the answer, particularly to the Halak being moved question, is no, then it's entirely possible that Allen, as a cost-controlled option as an RFA, could bring back some return from a team that needs goaltending. One way of looking at it: He put up comparable numbers to Ben Bishop this year (9-4 to Bishop's 9-5, 2.46 GAA to Bishop's 2.45, and .905 sv% to Bishop's .922), and Bishop netted a young NHL-level scoring prospect in Cory Conacher, along with a fourth round pick at the trade deadline.
Overall, I think Halak gets moved if the possibility for a reasonable return exists, simply due to the financial aspect of the situation, plus his past two years worth of injury history. However, if a team can't be found to take on Halak in light of those issues, then I think Allen will be the odd man out.